Also known as the ‘Floating City’, Venice is one the most recognizable destinations in the World. It’s surreal cityscape of winding glass-like canals, Gothic structures, and picturesque stone bridges make it a hotspot for tourists, and in the warmer months, its waterways overflow with visitors. When Greg and I visit in December, the frosty temperatures have warned off a majority of the crowds, giving us the perfect opportunity to explore the city as it rests.
Taking in the city’s sites
One thing I quickly realize about Venice is that while its main attractions, namely Rialto Bridge, The Bridge of Sighs and Basilica di San Marco, are must-sees, the labyrinth of earth-toned brick houses, teal canals, and their overarching bridges are an attraction in themselves.
As the city is literally car-less (the main form of transport being a fleet of waterbuses/’vaporettos’), and also quite small, Greg and I do most of our exploration by foot. Using the mobile app maps.me gives us the freedom to get lost in Venice’s residential areas without finding ourselves completely astray among its near-indistinguishable facades. Taking the time to truly discover every corner of the city provides us with the opportunity to really uncover all of its beauty.
One evening, while wandering through the city’s warmly lit streets in search for something to eat we discover a small and homely looking restaurant named Amina Bella. Once seated and having placed our orders, we are pleasantly surprised to realize that the waiter who jotted down our dishes was also the chef who would prepare them in a small kitchen behind the counter.
After an antipasto of delicately seasoned bruschetta, we enjoy two equally classic mains, a Penne Arrabbiata for Greg and Spaghetti Bolognese for myself. Both dishes are infallible; rich with flavor, generous portions and prepared to perfection. Our visit here sets the standard for any future pasta dishes to an incredible height.
The morning after our delicious dinner, we head out early towards the promenade at Fondemente Nove to board a vaporetto and start our exploration of the smaller island’s in the Venetian lagoon: Burano, Murano, and Torcello. For €20 each we purchase a ticket that provides us with 24hour unlimited vaporetto use between the islands.
Of the three, I find Burano the most memorable. It’s technicolored houses stand brightly against the overcast sky behind it and reflect brightly on the island’s canals. Interestingly, while the eclectic colors of the houses seem entirely random, there is a system in place to ensure that each can only be painted a certain number of hues to maintain the mismatched appearance.
Eaten in the city’s ‘bacari’ wine bars, cicchetti are incredibly tasty bite-size dishes served throughout the day. During our time in Venice we stop at two main bacari bars on multiple occasions: Al Merca, a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ type place where customers stand on the pavement to enjoy meat-filled sandwiches and Italian wines; and Osteria Ae Focoe, a small indoor bar with seating that sell incredible combinations of topped bread, polenta and filled croissants.
While the small nature of these dishes make them seem like a great option for a light snack, their well-composed textures and flavors will quickly have you making multiple orders and leaving with a very full stomach.
Each February, Venice hosts an opulent carnival where its goers don elaborately detailed masks and costumes. Having gained fame for this annual occasion, the city has come to be known for the craftsmanship of its masks, and in its maze of roads, its nearly impossible to pass a shop window adorned with the hollow eyes decorated with hand-painted designs, extravagant feathers, and dazzling adornments.
Located close to the famous Rialto Bridge, the outdoor market hosts rows of freshly caught seafood, brightly colored fruit and an abundance of vegetables. Walking between the various stalls it’s impossible not to be amazed by the display and sale of giant swordfish, fidgeting crustaceans and glistening octopus tentacles. The market also offers a great opportunity to buy gifts and souvenirs, selling pre-prepared packets of seasonings, letting your or your loved ones create classic Italian dishes at home.
On our final evening in the city, Greg made it his mission to find a small restaurant we had passed while exploring the streets earlier in our trip. On that day we became intrigued by its ‘no lasagne’ and ‘no tourist menu’ policy stated on a sign in one of its windows but failed to take down its name.
After a long walk spent backtracking between buildings and crossing numerous seemingly identical bridges, we find ourselves once again standing outside what we discover to be named Antiche Carampane and ironically has the tagline ‘you don’t arrive by chance’.
Unfortunately for us, our 4 pm arrival coincides with their pre-dinner closing hours, so after checking it’s raving TripAdvisor reviews decide that dining here is an absolute must and plan to return a few hours later. Upon our return, with stomachs rumbling and expectations high, we are made to backtrack to our guest room again as we find that the restaurant is so well sought that there are no tables available till later that evening.
When we are finally seated and are served with a starter of grilled octopus with white truffle infused potato cream, and mains of Venetian style cuttlefish with soft polenta and braised veal cheek with potatoes, we feel more than assured that our perseverance was well spent. The discreetly located restaurant serves one of the most memorable and mind-blowing meals we have ever shared.
How we traveled: We flew from London Stansted to Treviso Airport and upon arrival bought a ticket for a coach that would take us to Tronchetto car park from which we boarded a vaporetto to Venice. When in the city, we traveled by foot, taking a vaporetto only to visit Burano, Murano, and Torcello.
What we did: Everything we did in the city was free. As Venice is a tourist hotspot, prices are high – even in the low-season. Because of this we passed on taking a gondola ride and avoided churches and museums that charged an entry fee. Free attractions include Rialto Bridge, Basilica di San Marco, and Santa Maria Della Salute. We visited the smaller islands of Burano, Murano, and Torcello and spent a lot of time wandering around and eating!
Where we ate: We tried to find the cheapest places to eat (bar Antiche Carampane that is definitely on the pricier end of the spectrum). Alongside Amina Bella, other notable places include Cichetti bars Al Merca and Osteria Ae Forcoe, a €5 pizza place called Pizza 2000 and the coffee-franchise-of-dreams, Farini Bakery.
Where we stayed: We stayed in guest-room hosted by San Lio Guest House.
Tips & Tricks: Prepare to spend a lot of money on food, while there are some budget options, they need considerable effort to seek out, and the pricier restaurants are considerably hard to resist! Also, I would bear in mind the wise words of The DaVinci Code‘s Professor Langdon:”Venice is a museum by itself”.